Last summer, I was treated to a surprise trip. Though it was a surprise, I had to ask questions beforehand so that I knew what clothes to pack, what shoes to wear and what else to take with me. With the life beyond this one, heaven and the new creation, there are many unknowns. I have often asked questions about heaven and other Christians ask me questions about it too. I don’t always have an answer and sometimes my answers aren’t certain. Christians disagree about the uncertain finer details as the Bible doesn’t give a complete picture.
What is certain is that there is a heaven where God lives and where Jesus is now. Furthermore, it’s clear that when Jesus returns, he will judge as guilty those who have rejected him and make a new creation, joining heaven and earth, where we who believe in him can live in harmony and intimacy with God forever. In this article, when I refer to heaven, I am referring to where God lives now and when I refer to the new creation, I am referring to the joined heaven and earth at the return of Jesus.
A few weeks ago, we asked on social media what questions people had about the life beyond. Unfortunately I don’t have space to tackle all the questions, nor do I have the space to answer them in the depth they deserve. Yet, as a starting point, these are the answers I would give to the frequently asked questions about the life beyond.
Am I wrong in looking forward to being in heaven?
Absolutely not! To be in heaven is to experience the Father’s presence with his Son in a far better way and with greater intimacy than it is possible to have in this lifetime. Paul wrestled with this. He knew it was much better for him to die and go to be with Jesus in heaven, though it were more necessary for him to stay alive for the benefit of the Philippian church (Phil. 1:23-24). The new creation will be even better. However, it is entirely possible to anticipate heaven and the new creation so much that we ignore the significance of God’s purposes for this lifetime.
What happens to Christians the moment they die?
My understanding is that though our bodies remain on this earth, the very moment we die our souls are taken into the presence of Jesus in heaven (2 Cor. 5:8). Being in heaven, we join in heaven’s praising of God as we await the time of Jesus’ return. When Jesus returns to this earth, it is then that our bodies will be raised as new spiritual bodies and our souls reunited with them so that we can enjoy the new heaven and earth.
What does it mean that the names of believers are written in heaven?
I don’t think there is a physical book with a physical record of names. Yet, to communicate a sense of security and of belonging, using earthly language, the Bible speaks about our names being in heaven and in the book of life. In my house, we have the names of each of our children on their doors. It shows that the room is theirs, the place where they belong. Likewise, our names being written in heaven show that we belong there and if our names are recorded there, then we know we will one day be in God’s presence.
What will relationships be like in the new creation?
In his resurrection body, Jesus was recognisable even if not always immediately so. He still had a relationship with his closest friends. From that we can infer that we will be recognisable to each other, even if there will be some change to our bodies. In fact, on the mount of transfiguration, though they had never met them, it seems that the disciples knew Elijah and Moses who had been in heaven until that point. We will not be isolated individuals as part of a mass nameless crowd, but we will know and be known to others.
Will my spouse know me in the new creation?
I believe so. As per the question above, we will know each other in the new creation, even people we haven’t met before. If we know those we’ve never met, then surely we will know those that we have loved. Jesus seems very clear that any marriages are only for this lifetime, so we will not continue to be married nor begin new marriages in the new creation (Mark 12:25). That might sound disappointing for those of us who are happily married but whatever our relationship, we won’t be disappointed as it will be somehow far better!
Are people in heaven aware of what is happening on earth?
The Bible seems to indicate that they are. John’s vision depicts those who have died in the faith crying out to God asking, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ (Rev. 5:10). This indicates some awareness of the events of earth. In addition, in his parables, Jesus speaks about rejoicing in heaven over sinners turning in repentance (Luke 15:7,10). This isn’t the angels, as it’s rejoicing done in the presence of the angels, it must surely include believers who are therefore aware of people coming to faith in Jesus.
Will my pet be in the new creation?
God’s plans for eternity include all of creation: not just animals, but plant life, rocks, rivers and anything else created by God. All of creation is groaning as it waits for God’s children to be revealed because then creation will also be set free from the curse (Rom. 8:19-21). Whether specific pets will be part of the new creation, I’m not so sure. Whatever the case, that new creation is far better. Billy Graham said to one little girl that if we need our pets to make us happier, then they will be there! Then again, even if our pets aren’t there, we won’t be sad.
What age will we be in our new bodies?
I don’t think the Bible gives us any clear indication on this whatsoever, so any answer is going to be speculative. Thomas Aquinas suggested that we might be the age Jesus was when he died and rose again. Whatever our age, our bodies will be made new and therefore able to enjoy the new creation to the fullest.
Will we eat and drink in heaven?
In heaven we won’t yet have our glorified bodies, so I don’t think we will eat and drink but I certainly hope we will in the new creation! Food and drink is a good gift of God that he wants us to enjoy in this life (Eccl. 9:7). Why then would he take that away in the new creation? If he were to do so, it would only be because there would be something better. Since Jesus was able to eat in his resurrected body, and as he said he would drink wine with us in God’s eternal kingdom (Matt. 26:29), we have every reason to presume that we will eat and drink in the new creation.
Many of our questions will likely remain unanswered until the new creation. The fact that they are causes us to continue our longing for that time and to cry out the biblical word, maranatha: come, Lord!